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But, despite drawbacks and discomforts, the trek had prospered exceedingly. No officious field-cornet had intruded his unwelcome person, and not a soul suspected the secret of the neatly - painted timbers that occupied so little room in the waggon, yet formed a burden whose magnitude the unfortunate oxen knew too well. Old Smeer proved throughout an expert transport rider, knowing and doing his difficult work in a manner that excited the profoundest admiration of Wilmot, to whom it came as a revelation that the driving of a span of oxen was an art of wondrous complexity. Never for a minute could the vigilance of the driver be relaxed. The brake demanded as much care as the tiller of a sailing-boat, and Smeer's hand was fifty times in the hour tightening or loosening the screw to check the waggon as it rushed down an incline, or ease it over a boulder that would have wrecked anything save a South African waggon. When not at the brake, Smeer was wielding the huge whip that cracked and whistled in the air with a sweep as deft and clean as that of the rod and line in the hand of a practised thrower of the fly, and its biting lash would take a delicate strip of skin out of the hide of an ox thirty feet away, and within an inch of the spot aimed at. Yet amid this expenditure of ceaseless
effort Smeer kept up his interminable cheering and threatening in the Volapuk of the span that is understood by every trek OX from Cape Agulhas to the Zambesi. Little wonder that the moment the last ox had been released from the span the old man threw down his whip and crawled under the waggon. Like the animals, he could sleep at will, but, unlike them, at unbroken length. His companions had little of his society during the outspan. When awake he spoke little, except to the Kafirs, cooked his own food, and never by any chance manifested the slightest curiosity as to the objective of the journey. Wilmot remarked on this, and asked Hartley how he thought the old man would behave when he found, as he must, sooner or later, that he had been assisting in the perpetration of a crime held in especial detestation by his race.
"Let's wait till he finds out," was Hartley's reply.
Only once did the old man fail at his work. One day, towards the end of an easy trek, he turned to answer a question addressed to him by Hartley, riding behind. That moment the waggon took a plunge into a hollow, and before Smeer could screw up the brake the increasing momentum had gained the mastery. The waggon overran the two afteroxen or wheelers, dragging the poor brutes over the fortun
ately smooth ground, then crashed into a projecting boulder that smashed the near front wheel into matchwood.
The three men gazed at each other, speechless in the face of a calamity so terrific. Hartley was the first to recover.
"This means a week's outspan, while we hunt the country for a farmer who has a spare wheel. Where is the nearest farm, Johannes?"
Johannes honestly confessed ignorance, and with the maddening disregard for time that is part of Boer religion, coolly proposed to ride back till he met Van Enter, who, knowing the country, might be able to tell them where to look for help. In the absence of a more practical suggestion this was adopted, and at sun-up next morning the old man set off cheerily on what might prove a fifty-mile ride, his sole sustenance for the two days' journey a strip of biltong that hung from his ancient saddle, and looked part of it.
"There will be nothing for us to do for a week except eat up our stores," said Hartley at breakfast; "so I'll ride ahead and look at the track, and maybe go on to 'Mpfeu's kraal to arrange for Kafirs to carry in the gear in the event of our getting no wheel."
Half an hour later he was away, and Wilmot sat, a solitary white man in a region virgin and silent as any in South Africa.
There was no other horse, therefore his excursions were perforce limited to such areas
as he could traverse afoot. He missed the companionship of Hartley terribly the first day, but on the next Golosh modestly proposed an excursion to a not too distant valley where some good fishing was to be had. The mission-school training had not eradicated the innate instinct for the life of the veld. The Kafir knew much of veld - craft, and the observant Wilmot learned much from him, for their environment supplied ample material. Game abounded, from the graceful springbok and lordly though fast-disappearing koodoo, with its horns like billiard-cues, to the liliputian the liliputian of the buck species, the beautiful little peattie, no bigger than a toyterrier and quite as sprightly and alert. The pool that provided the fish was also the home of an ugly though harmless six-foot iguana, of whom fearsome stories are told by the Boers. At the instigation of Golosh, Wilmot watched for hours in hopes of catching a glimpse of that apocryphal python which has swallowed several spans of oxen in various parts of South Africa since the day, thirty years ago, when he was discovered by a truthful and oprecht Burgher at Wonderfontein finishing the four survivors of a flock of sheep. The python did not materialise, but a ten-foot black mamba appeared as substitute, and ruthlessly upset all travellers' tales of his ferocity in the presence of man by scuttling to cover at lightning speed. Golosh, like most christianised
Kafirs, had a keen perception of what interested white men recently "out," and needed very little encouragement to exercise it. He had accompanied the author of 'Ten Days in South Africa' on his adventures, and had earned immortality by an appreciative and honourable mention in that authoritative work, for which he had supplied much of the material. He knew, he said, where lions, crocodiles, hippopotami, and elephants were to be found, all conveniently near their outspan. He veritable Jamrach, prepared to supply any wild animal the credulous traveller might fancy, but the non-appearance of the creatures at last excited Wilmot's suspicions, and he expressed them in suitable language.
Golosh was equal to the emergency. "All these animals are here," said he, "but most Englishmen are hard to make believe. I never tell Baas Hartley of these things, for he believes so little that he would make me go and find them, and you know Boers won't let Kafirs carry guns, so why should I go into danger?"
"But if these things are in the land, why should Baas Hartley not believe you?" Wilmot asked.
"Because he says he knows Christian Kafirs."
Wilmot did not pursue the subject.
One morning Golosh made a disconcerting discovery. He brought a handful of cartridges, explaining that they had fallen
out of the big timber on the waggon. Wilmot suppressed his consternation, and at the first opportunity examined the gear. The end of one of the laager timbers had warped, through exposure to the sun, and loosened the nails that held the two parts. The shock that had smashed the wheel had also strained and split the boards that masqueraded as solid timbers, and a dozen cartridges had fallen out, while others were sufficiently exposed to reveal the nature of the lining of the head gear.
Wilmot was in a fever of anxiety to know whether Smeer had penetrated their secret, but he dared not excite the curiosity of Golosh by asking questions. He contrived an excuse for sending him and the other Kafirs away from the waggon, while he hastily repaired the damage and covered it with a heavy packing-case. The discovery scared and worried him. He mounted guard over the waggon all day, and lay awake half the night, fearing that the secret would be probed by the Kafirs while he slept. Once he ventured to ask Golosh if he had found any more cartridges, but if the boy suspected anything his manner did not betray him.
Wilmot tried to persuade himself that the secret was intact, but the damage was so glaringly apparent that he found it difficult to believe the naturally inquisitive and keen-eyed Kafirs had not detected it. Golosh's silence on the matter was also terribly suspicious, for a Kafir will talk
for an hour over trifles less ing Kafir, whom he introduced important, and exhaust his vocabulary and his cunning in an attempt to prove that he had nothing to do with the accident.
as Bulalie, head induna to 'Mpfeu. Smeer treated the induna with the unconcealed brusquerie and masterfulness that the Boer displays towards all Kafirs, whether chiefs or kitchen - boys, and accepted Hartley's half-truthful explanation of his presence with marked disapproval.
The time passed with deadly slowness, now that Wilmot dared not leave the vicinity of the waggon. He had nothing to read, so in sheer desperation he inspanned Golosh as tutor, and tried to learn a few Kafir words and phrases. But the ever-present anxiety obtruded itself to the exclusion of aught else, and Golosh marvelled at the dulness of his pupil, and one day expressed himself in terms that would have ensured him a vigorous thrashing had Baas Hartley heard him.
ation of He had nothing
"I don't think white men are as clever as natives in some
things," said he. "I speak well and good the English, the Hollands, the Taal, the Basuto, some Griqua, and the Zulu, but you Englishmen speak only your own tongue, and speak Zulu like children."
Johannes Smeer returned the fourth day after his departure. He seemed concerned at the absence of Hartley, but beyond a curt intimation that the wheel was coming had little to say about his mission, taking refuge in his unfamiliarity with English. Wilmot watched him closely, and thought he hovered at the back of the waggon much more than was necessary for an examination of a broken wheel at the other end. Two days later Hartley returned, bringing with him a fine-look
"I have the wheel; we want no strange Kafirs to help us," he said curtly.
Hartley inquired where the wheel was.
"It doesn't come till you and I have had an indaba" (serious talk).
Hartley looked puzzled, and Wilmot's heart beat fast, for Smeer had spoken in English, and with a marked emphasis that satisfied him the secret was out.
"Give me a minute before you talk to him," he whispered, and walked away, Hartley following. When out of earshot Wilmot, in a few words, told of the matter of the cartridges and his suspicions. Hartley was silent for a time, then his habitual promptitude asserted itself.
"Then he knows, and is going to blackmail us. He doesn't leave this place if he plays monkey. I'll hear what he has to say. Keep cool and stand by me," he whispered, and walked up to Smeer.
"Well, what about the wheel?" he asked in English. "Come where we can talk and I'll tell you," the old man answered in the Taal.
"No, speak English. My
And do I not know that these Kafir chiefs have many? You see, I have thought this thing out very hard and strong, Mr Hartley."
"Well, come to business; what do you want to make it right with your friends?"
"Mr Hartley, you know I want money that I may do no more transport riding and marry Clarie.”
"I want £500, and you must promise to make Clarie want to marry me."
"You must be a fool, Johannes, or you would know that no man can make a woman change her mind when it is a matter of liking or disliking.
Ach, but you are slim with women. She will do what you tell her."
Hartley lit up his pipe and bungled it.
"Look here, Johannes, I'll make a bargain with you. You say you want money to marry Clarie. I can give you that, but I cannot give you the woman if she refuses, but, as you say, I have good ways with her. Now, Clarie does not like you, but you can do much to alter that?"
"How? Tell me how, Mr Hartley?" the old man asked eagerly.
"You must take your Bible oath that you will make it right with your friends and help me through; then I will give you £500, and tell Clarie that you are truly an oprecht Burgher, because you keep your word and do not lead the blind into a pitfall."